The first attempts by the Russian army to take kyiv by force failed. However, the Kremlin has not revised its goal of regime change in Ukraine.
“The objective is the liquidation of Ukraine as a puppet of the Anglo-Saxon bloc”, declares Pyotor Akopov, columnist at the Russian newspaper RIA-Novosti.
“Ukraine in its present form will not come out of this conflict,” Akopov said. Newsweek. “It will be a different country with a different leadership completely within the Russian sphere of influence.”
Akopov came to the attention of Western observers on February 26, when he published an op-ed titled “The Invasion of Russia and the Arrival of a New World.” The article was published on the RIA-Novosti website at 8 a.m. sharp on February 26, two days after the start of the Russian invasion.
“Ukraine has returned to Russia,” the article declared optimistically. “This does not mean that its statehood will be liquidated, but that it will be reorganized, restored and returned to its natural state of part of the Russian world.”
The RIA-Novisti website deleted Akopov’s article minutes after it was published. Most speculation as to why he did so has centered on the discrepancy between the columnist’s characterization of “Russia, Belarus and Ukraine acting as one geopolitical entity” and the actual fact of the Ukrainian soldiers and citizens banding together to repel the Russian invasion.
However, even as Russian troops redeploy from areas around kyiv in northern Ukraine to focus their attack on the southern Black Sea coast and the eastern Donbass region, Akopov maintains that the political objectives of the Russia in Ukraine will be achieved.
“One possibility for the operation was a quick surrender, but another was a longer conflict,” Akopov explains. “The quick surrender did not happen, and now the troops that were around kyiv will redeploy to take control of the Kherson area in Donetsk.”
He went on to describe Ukraine’s transformation into what is known as a ‘rump state’, a landlocked remnant of the free and viable country it once was, cut off from the West, from vital maritime trade via the sea. Black, a Kremlin state client – just like its northern neighbor.
“After that, the Ukrainian army will see the futility of fighting, and Russia will expand towards Mykolaiv and Odessa,” Akopov said. “What is left of Ukraine will then come under such economic and military pressure that it will have to reorient itself away from the West and back towards Russia.”
“The resulting Ukrainian state will be similar to Belarus in its geopolitical orientation and internal administration,” he added. “It’s a multi-step process.”
Akopov is not an isolated voice. Despite the military facts on the ground, his rhetoric matches that of other figures close to the Kremlin and the Russian leadership themselves.
Since the start of Putin’s invasion on February 24, one of Russia’s officially stated goals has been the “denazification” of Ukraine. The accusation that the Kyiv government is a neo-fascist entity has been repeated in Moscow since the Ukrainian Euromaidan revolution of 2014.
Moscow’s characterization of its southern neighbor has not changed despite the fact that in 2019, 73% of Ukrainian voters voted for current President Volodymyr Zelensky, a Russian-speaking Ukrainian of Jewish descent.
Nonetheless, on the morning of February 24, just hours after Russian forces began attacking Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that “we will strive to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine.”
Throughout the conflict, Russian officials and Kremlin-linked insiders have used similar rhetoric.
“Our president said that we have to do denazification and demilitarization,” State Duma deputy Pyotr Tolstoy said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda radio on March 17. “For these two tasks to be accomplished, it is necessary to completely take control of the territory of Ukraine.”
In an interview published on March 28 in the newspaper Rossiskaya GazetaRussian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that “both the demilitarization and the denazification of Ukraine are necessary elements of any diplomatic agreement we might reach”.
On April 5, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wrote on his personal Telegram channel: “It is not surprising that after writing the names of Judas and Nazi henchmen in his history textbooks and mentally transformed into the Third Reich, Ukraine suffers the same fate as them.”
On April 8, Russian Foreign Ministry official spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said of claims by some Ukrainians that borscht is a Ukrainian dish: “That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about xenophobia, Nazism and extremism in all its forms”.
On April 12, in another interview published in Rossiskaya GazetaKremlin insider Sergey Karaganov said: “We have not yet solved the main problem, which is the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, and the liberation of Donbass. It will have to be solved by military means , because the negotiations at this stage will not lead too much.”
And also on April 12, the Russian president himself unequivocally reaffirmed his goals.
“The military operation will continue until its full completion,” Vladimir Putin told a press conference, “with the resolution of the goals that were stated at the beginning of this operation.”
Despite its strategic military reorientation towards southern and eastern Ukraine, the Kremlin has not altered its original political goal of regime change in Kyiv.
As Akapov warns, “this process can take several years.”